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VUCA - Why are we still talking about it?

Why are we using an acronym coined following the Cold War? The acronym VUCA, used to describe the more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, which resulted from the end of the Cold War, was first introduced by the U.S. Army War College and common usage of the term began in 1990’s – more than 20 years ago!

VUCA, in the corporate environment, can be used as a throw away statement to explain why something is happening (or not happening). And it is often misleading as the words: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous; require different responses due to the four distinct types of challenges it proposes.

When it’s difficult to know how to approach challenging situations using the term VUCA can be a bit of a crutch, or a deflection, to throw off the need to do some hard work (strategy and planning) as ‘you can’t prepare for a VUCA world … can you?’

Well actually we can and do.

The work of Clare W. Graves, who during the 1950’s and 1960’s researched human value systems, and our ‘always-open-to-change responses’ to identify that as thresholds of complexity are reached, the mind’s ability to make sense of the world becomes overburdened. To cope with this, our minds must create more complex models of reality to deal with the new problems of existence. Which means we are evolving to match the conditions we are presented with.

Maybe you have experienced this, where you become so overwhelmed with something you are trying to understand that it's almost as if your head hurts. And then the overwhelm feeling dissipates and it's difficult to remember why you found it hard initially!

I’ve written about our comfort zones before, and how as humans, we crave certainty, so we can find it difficult to move out of our comfort zones to experience change or difference. And yet that is how we continue to grow and evolve and move through change. If we weren’t prepared to move out of our comfort zones we probably would never have moved out of trees!

So the VUCA environment is nothing new – we keep responding, and always have done, to handle the environment we are presented with.

Let’s move from using VUCA to explain why we can’t do something or why something is difficult, and consider the opposite: Creating a CALM Culture through Conversation.

C: Cohesion / Compassion

A: Awareness / Acceptance / Alignment / Adaption

L: Love of Learning 

M: Motivate / Mobilise / Move

A Calm Culture is one where team members are coming up with transformative ideas, are innovative and inspiring. It's an energising and exciting place to be. Everyone in the team feels valued, and there are high levels of trust between each member.

When we are part of a team or an organisation focused on creating a CALM Culture we are focused on building on each other’s capacity and capability to learn together to co-create new ideas. Strengths and values are understood and people know where they stand. Everyone is invested in being the best they can be individually and collectively with a view of lifting the entire organisation. This goes beyond KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) and amazing things happen. There is a lot of productive output and also the will to build relationships, which is why trust is high.

The next time you hear someone talking about a VUCA world – think about what they are trying to gloss over or why they are focussed on this acronym. And maybe the better alternative is to consider how to keep it simple and develop a CALM culture.


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